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Nov. 13, 2013

What You Didn't Know About Einstein

by Ira Flatow

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I rarely single out a book for praise. But when you find yourself poring through a book's end notes and re-reading pages after finishing it like I did with this particular book, you want to let others know about it. It's called Einstein and The Quantum: The Quest of the Valian Swabian, by A. Douglas Stone.
 
I'm an Einstein fan from way back. And I love history. So when a book combines the two and sheds a whole bunch of new light on him and his work, then I'm hooked. I've always wondered why Einstein didn't win the Nobel Prize in Physics for his relativity work. I've always wondered why he created but later didn't accept quantum mechanics. Stone answers these questions with new, revisionist insight about the world of science in the early 20th century and the characters and personalities that inhabited it. Quantum physics did not begin with Schrodinger's cat, like many of us think. It began with Einstein way before his work on relativitiy, and he would return again and again to problems in quantum theory, putting realtivity aside for a while. 
 
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All the great names are there. Max Born and Niels Bohr. Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg. But you'll also meet the not-so-famous, but still very important ones, like J.W. Gibbs. And S.N. Bose, who would help formulate the super cold Bose-Einstein "condensation" that would keep scientists busy even today. 
 
If you're searching for a different take on physics, this one's for you. Stone doesn't just inject fresh ideas and perspective—he has the data to back them up: private letters, writings, and unpublished research unfamiliar to most of us. 
 
There're no complex equations in this book. Just really good storytelling, which I'm hoping reads even better on my second pass. 
 
RELATED SCIENCE FRIDAY LINKS
An excerpt from the book: Einstein's Monster
 
About Ira Flatow

Ira is the host and executive producer of Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.
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